Alexander Nazaryan: Blood and Tragedy -- The Caucasus in the Literary Imagination

tags: New Yorker, Chechnya, Alexander Nazaryan, Leo Tolstoy, Caucasus



Alexander Nazaryan is on the editorial board of the New York Daily News, where he edits the Page Views book blog.

At the beginning of “The Cossacks,” Leo Tolstoy’s early novel about imperial Russia’s military campaign in the Caucasus, the protagonist Olenin muses about the battles to come: “All his dreams about the future were connected with… Circassian maids, mountains, precipices, fearsome torrents and dangers.” He imagines, with predictable vigor, “killing and subduing a countless number of mountaineers.” Much less predictably, he identifies himself with the Central Asian people he is being sent to subjugate: “He was himself one of the mountaineers, helping them to defend their independence against the Russians.”

That subjugation of the Caucasus would continue for another two centuries, culminating in the two successive wars waged by Yeltsin and Putin. From somewhere within that region—it is not clear where, exactly—emerged the Tsarnaev family, immigrating (apparently) to the Boston area about a decade ago. On Monday, the two Tsarnaev brothers—Dzhokhar and Tamerlan—allegedly committed the first act of terror on American soil since 9/11.

Whether the two accused bombers had specific grievances about the plight of their native Chechnya is unclear. But as the details of their lives emerge, people will inevitably be searching for links between the two young men and the conflict-riven place they come from. It’s a conflict that started with the Cossack encroachments of the eighteenth century and continued with imperial invasions under Catherine the Great, mass deportations by Stalin, and the post-Soviet cruelties of the contemporary Kremlin....



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